ISOLDÉ DRAGGED CUSHIONS OFF a settee and laid them in front of the gate to the Crystalmaker’s prison. “You have to stay awake,” she told the boy who took a seat at the edge of one of the cushions. “I need to sleep now.” The boy was sulking. He thought that he should be allowed to sleep, but she pointed out that he had been asleep most of the day and it was her turn to rest. “You have to look after our guest. I promised Achton. He had to go away on some urgent business. He said I had to look after the prisoner while he was away. You have to help me.”
She felt particularly anxious for the Crystalmaker tonight. All afternoon she had tried to engage him in conversation and encourage him to eat, but he was not interested in food and seemed only to want to sleep. She had tiptoed out of his prison and begun trawling through the many books in her library, desperately trying to find information on Crystalmakers. Books now lay open on every table, chair and bench in the room, spilled on to the floor and even out of the door. Every book was open at a page. She had joined the pages together with a long, thin string, taped to words she believed would give her the information she needed. Now, as she settled on to the cushions, she carefully taped the end of the string to her ear in the belief that, while she slept, the words she had joined together would slide along the string and into her brain to give her the knowledge to heal the Crystalmaker. “But I have to lie very still,” she murmured.
The boy woke her from a deep sleep to tell her a person had come to see her. She sat up with a start, the string falling off her ear. Out of the corner of her eye she saw all the words that had been laboriously making their way along the string fall on to the floor. But she did not have time to be concerned about the fate of the words. Before her was an apparition to which she needed to pay homage. “Oh, My Star,” she gasped, her hand coming up to shield her eyes from the bright light. She scrambled to her feet and contorted her thin limbs into a curtsey.
The bright apparition tipped her head slightly to the side. Isoldé flustered, wondering whether it was surprise or anger that touched the features of the apparition’s face.
“Lian Isoldé, I have come to take the Crystalmaker.” The voice tinkled.
Lian Isoldé felt a stab of desolation. “Has he died, then?” Lian Isoldé turned to the boy, tears welling into her eyes. “I told you to look after him.” Then she dropped her face into her hands. “I beg your forgiveness,” she moaned. “I gave in to sleep. Oh, Achton will be disappointed that I have neglected to care for our guest.”
“Hush! Lian Isoldé, please do not disturb the household. I will simply take the Crystalmaker with me.”
Through her tears, Lian Isoldé looked pleadingly at the light that spoke. “Will you take all of the Crystalmaker? Will some part of him remain with me?”
The apparition hesitated a long moment, a frown forming on perfect features that were almost hidden in the radiating brightness. Lian Isoldé began to shiver with fear, wondering if she had angered the wraith. But finally the beautiful light said: “I will leave you his essence, but I will take his physical self. Please now open the door.”
The door? Which door? Isoldé looked around. She could see three doors. One had the string running out of it and a cluster of words on the floor around the doorway trying to clamber on to the string to make their way back to the books they came from; that door was already open. Another door led to the room Achton always tried to persuade her to spend her nights in; it was also open. A third door led to other people in the house. It stood half open. She could see a trail of light through that door and guessed that the Star had walked through it. “My Star, the doors are open,” she murmured unhappily. “I see no other doors to open. I am locked in this world. I do not see what you can see.”
Again a slight frown on the perfect features; Lian Isoldé’s legs almost gave way in her terror.
“Please lead me to the Crystalmaker. You need to put his hand into mine so that his essence stays with you.”
“Oh!” Lian Isoldé’s relief burst from her. Sometimes these apparitions were so hard to understand! She waved away the boy – he had not even had the decency to stand before the Star! She muttered an apology to the apparition about the boy’s bad manners as she dragged the cushions away from in front of the prison gate and searched among them for the large iron ring on which she kept the single key to the prison. She hoped the Star would notice how careful she had been to ensure that everything was properly taken care of. The Star would, of course, know that a jailer’s key must always be kept on a large ring. She inserted the key into the lock of the gate, pushing at the iron bars. She gave a little grunt because the gate was heavy to move.
Light spilled into the dark prison. She thought she saw a stir of movement but dismissed it as a trick of the light. Everyone knew that the dead did not move.
The Star walked past her and directly to the dead Crystalmaker. In the dim light, Lian Isoldé saw the Star kneel before the figure and sing a low song. The Crystalmaker sat up slowly. The dead are reluctant movers, Lian Isoldé noted. She whispered these words to the boy, who had not spoken for a long time. He is afraid that I will scold him for letting the Crystalmaker die, she thought. She wondered if it would be the right thing to do to scold him. Really! She did not have much experience with boys. It was such a trial that she now had responsibility for this one!
– but she mustn’t be distracted, she had a task to perform. She knelt beside the Star and, taking the Crystalmaker’s hand, she placed it into the Star’s hand. Again the Star sang a song – she recognised it as the Crystalmaker’s language, but spoken so fluently that it became a song – and then the Crystalmaker sang back. His song was cracked and broken. He gripped the Star’s hand. Lian Isoldé could feel his desperation. She still held one of his hands, reluctant to let go in case his essence decided not to stay with her. Poor Crystalmaker. The Star must have just told him that he’s died and now he’s upset.
The Star helped the Crystalmaker to his feet.
“Lian Isoldé,” the Star said – the light shining from her lit the room so brightly it was hard to see anything. Lian Isoldé peered into the light. “Please stay in this room with his essence. He begs me to thank you for all the kindness you have shown him. He says he does not know how long his essence can stay with you. Probably until morning.”
Lian Isoldé took a seat at the end of the mat that the Crystalmaker had died on. She still held the hand but it had lost its warmth. She felt at peace, now, with the death, knowing the Crystalmaker had appreciated her care.
The boy came and sat with her. They sat quietly in the dark together. Every now and then the Crystalmaker’s essence would sing softly to them in the flowing words she had heard the Star sing.
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